September 08, 2011

The Doorway to Pure Prayer

Because if it’s in the mind it’s also in the heart. An interview on prayer
By The Orthodox World, vol 41, no. 1
Feb 17, 2007, 21:28

Humble-Mindedness : The Doorway to Pure Prayer

Over the past ten years it has become a common occurrence for pilgrims on Mount Athos to make the one-hour trek from Vatopedi Monastery to the Kellion of St. George. The long and dusty uphill trail passes by monastery fields and within sight of the place where St. Gregory Palamas labored. After several steep ascents, the trail branches off onto a winding path that cuts across the verdant mountainside. In springtime, the thick foliage threatens to choke the passageway, while a myriad of wildflowers paints a dazzling landscape—a fitting offering to the mountain’s protectress, the Theotokos. Proceeding past the ruins of centuries-old monastic dwellings, the pilgrim arrives at a terraced plot of land overlooking the Aegean Sea. There, amidst well-tended gardens and enclosed by a rustic, tree-limb railing, stand a few whitewashed stone buildings adorned with blue trim: the Kellion of St. George. Outside, sitting on benches, one would find a few pilgrims waiting in hope of receiving a few profitable words from the humble Elder, Hieroschemamonk Dionysius (Ignat).

Four years ago in these pages we presented the life story of Elder Dionysius [1] in a three-part article on the Elders of Kolitsou Skete, a Romanian dependency of Vatopedi Monastery, Mount Athos, Greece. On April 28/May 11, 2004, this righteous Romanian Elder reposed in the Lord after a long, God-pleasing life of ninety-five years. Elder Dionysius had been a monk for eighty-two years, seventy-seven of which were spent on Mount Athos, and sixty-six of which were spent in the same kellion. He was a wonderful, loving monk and spiritual father, well known by his fellow Athonite monks but largely unknown to those outside the Holy Mountain until the last fifteen years or so.

Elder Dionysius was born in Romania in 1909, the youngest son of eight children, and was baptized with the name Dimitry. He was always close to his older brother George (later the Monk Gymnasius), and followed him into the monastic life—first in Romania in 1922 and then on Mount Athos in 1926. After ten years of extreme physical hardship and struggle on the Holy Mountain, the two brothers came under the spiritual direction of Elder Gideon (Chelaru). They were also able to obtain (and restore, both physically and spiritually) a kellion of their own, dedicated to the Great Martyr George, in Kolitsou Skete. Fr. Gymnasius attained great holiness before his repose in 1965, and Elder Gideon died a righteous death in 1979 [2]. For almost ten years Elder Dionysius’ only constant co-struggler in the St. George Kellion was Schemamonk John (Shova) [3]. There were, however, a small number of spiritually experienced monks nearby to whom he could go for spiritual advice, including Elder John (Goutsou) (†1996) [4], Elder Dometian (Trihena) of the St. Hypatius Kellion (†1984) [5], and more recently Elder Joseph the New of Vatopedi Monastery.

Elder Dionysius was one of the last living links to the holy ascetics who lived on Mount Athos during the first part of the twentieth century. He was a man of deep spiritual prayer, who engaged in the noetic activity spoken of in The Philokalia. Many who have benefitted from his counsel commented that the most common theme of his encouragement to his fellow strugglers was “patience, patience, and more patience.”

Although the Elder had been born of simple farmers and had spent most of his life in obscurity, his renown drew a constant stream of pilgrims seeking a spiritual word. Toward the end of his life the fathers of the kellion would have to lock the gates so that the Elder could rest his body, which was exhausted by strict ascesis and illness. Even then people would scale the gates just to talk to Fr. Dionysius. Students and world leaders, Greeks and Americans, all flocked to receive a blessing from the rough and weathered hands of the ascetic. Even the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, was at the Elder’s funeral, paying his respects along with two hundred monks from all over the Holy Mountain.

In memory of this holy Elder, we are presenting an interview with him containing much profitable counsel. The interview was conducted in May 2001 by Hierodeacon Cleopa Paraschiv, author of the Romanian book The Prayer of Jesus: The Way of Uniting the Mind with the Heart [6]. At that time the Elder was ninety-two years old, blind and physically infirm, but rich in the spiritual wisdom that is born of long and unremitting labor.

1. On the Jesus Prayer

Question: Most pious Elder, what is the purpose of our life in this temporal world?

Answer: The main purpose of our earthly life is to be saved, to arrive in the Kingdom of Heaven. Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us: “Be holy, just as your Father in Heaven is holy!” (cf. Matt. 5:48). During this earthly life, with the help of Divine Grace and our good Christian deeds we can enter the ranks of the saints. And if, because of our lack of virtue, we cannot join the ranks of the saints, we should strive to inherit Paradise. By no means can you simultaneously be a good Christian and commit sin. If you commit sin, you depart from the Grace of God and unite yourself to the devil. Thus, you depart from the Church, from the Holy Mysteries and from the Divine teachings in order to satisfy your own passions, which the devil has settled in your soul. You should not obey your passions. That’s why the Church sings: “From my youth do many passions war against me …” (Hymns of Degrees, Tone 4). That’s why the Holy Scripture tells us: Seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man (Col. 3:9–10). Because if we’re of the old man, we’re the slaves of passions and sins.

Question: What is the teaching of the Holy Fathers about the human spirit and the demonic spirit?

Answer: The human spirit becomes a demonic spirit through sin. The devil sows the seeds of bad deeds in our heart through the working of our energy and thoughts. If you accept the bad seeds into your heart, they’ll start sprouting. And if you’re not careful to throw them away and purify your heart with the Grace of the Holy Spirit and good Christian works (prayer, fasting, Confession, Holy Communion, etc.) they’ll take root and grow. And from that moment on, the devil will go away from you, because from that moment on he’s sure that you’ll follow your passions to every bad thing.

Question: So, if you’re dissolute, does Divine Grace depart from you and does the spirit of fornication lead you to all kinds of depraved sins and unnatural sins?

Answer: Of course. But it’s more serious, in that they become like natural deeds. You think and say that in no way can you leave these sins. That’s why, from the beginning, we should observe bodily and spiritual purity. We will have great help in our spiritual warfare if we observe bodily and spiritual purity, as is the case with monastic life. And the lay people should have marital relations with restraint, on the days permitted by the Church, and only after an Orthodox marriage ceremony. The devil knows this and that’s why he tries so hard to cast people into the sins of fornication. These many evils of our days are from the demons, who want in this way to defile the temple of the Holy Spirit, which is a Christian’s body, and afterwards to lead it into every evil thing. Once you’ve committed sins of dissoluteness you can’t pray any more; you cease participating in the Holy Liturgy, you stop confessing, and you can’t perform other good Christian deeds anymore.

Owing to this worldly spirit—which forms from childhood around the heart through poor education, pornographic movies, advertising, desires, sins, etc.—the Christian can no longer pray, nor can he do a good, salvific deed. But even those who have fallen into great sins can correct themselves, with the help of Divine Grace. This struggle and deliverance from sins and from the demons will be counted unto them as martyrdom.

Question: After Baptism, is the devil expelled from the depth of our heart so that he now works from outside?

Answer: He works from outside the heart. But if we sin, we allow him to penetrate into the depths of the heart. This is what a passion is. From now on, this passion will lead us, but not even now does Divine Grace leave us. God gave man total freedom. The Grace of the Holy Spirit showed him the difference between right and wrong. It showed us the way to the Kingdom of Heaven, and the way which leads to perdition—hell. God tells us: I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life (Deut. 30:19). The Grace of the Holy Spirit could have made it impossible for man to ever fall. But in that case he would have had neither personality nor virtues, but would have been an animal or a robot. None of God’s creations has the freedom that man has. The Christian who fulfills God’s commandments with the help of Divine Grace may become a saint. And God is so good that even when we fall into sins and cry to Him in repentance, “Lord, forgive me! Lord, help me!” He comes to us and helps us to rise from our sins. That is why our Lord Jesus Christ told us, Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden with sins, and I will give you rest (Matt. 11:28)!

However, if the passions have settled in a man and have become like a new sinful nature, that man will say, “It’s impossible to cut off these passions!” This is especially so because we are in the last times, when mankind has become careless and insensible towards spiritual things. Whether one is a layman, a monk or a priest, one isn’t concerned over passions and sins. This a great danger because thereby we allow the demons to progress in controlling us.

Question: Where does our pride come from?

Answer: Pride is only from the demons. Through Holy Baptism, God has forgiven the ancestral sin and personal sins committed before Baptism, and has given us the Grace of the Holy Spirit of perfection, telling us, Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48).

Question: But the effects remain!

Answer: We should cut them off through the Grace of God, which will always help us on our way to perfection. But since we have been created with freedom, we must fight in order to defeat the passions and the sins. For example, if you smoke you have the power to say, “I’ve confessed, and with God’s help I will smoke no more from now on!” But the old man within you will say, “You’ve smoked for so many years! You won’t be able to! You’ll get sick and die!” But if you have faith, strengthened by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, you’ll respond, “I’ve made my decision, and with God’s help I’ll quit smoking no matter what!” And then the Grace of the Holy Spirit will descend upon you and will help you in every way. But if you think like this: “I’ll give up smoking, but I’ll smoke for one or two more weeks and after that I’ll quit, no matter what,” then you’re not decided, you don’t have your will strengthened by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, and you won’t give up smoking.

Question: May parents’ sins be transmitted to their children?

Answer: To parents who have great sins and vices (profligates, alcoholics, drug users, smokers, etc.) there may be born children with physical and mental illnesses. This is confirmed by medical studies as well. But here intervenes the Divine Grace present in the Holy Mysteries—Baptism, Chrismation, Holy Confession, Holy Communion, Holy Unction, and Marriage—which will help the child be saved. For example, a child who is born blind has other Divine gifts compared to a child who is born healthy, in order to live in this life and be saved. But the sins which parents commit after the child’s birth may also have negative repercussions on the spiritual and bodily state of the child. Moreover, through the poor education they give to a child, parents can instill passions in his heart which are destructive to the soul. We have examples in the Holy Scripture and in Holy Tradition that from pure and righteous parents there have been born children who became saints, such as the Mother of God, St. John the Baptist, etc.

2. On Humble-mindedness

Question: St. Silouan the Athonite says that the only thing a Christian should learn as long as he lives in this earthly life is humble-mindedness [7].

Answer: That’s true, father. The Christian should first learn what humility is in order to be able to humble himself afterwards, in every moment of his life, before people and the demons [8]. In this way he will grow spiritually, and his heart will be filled with the Grace and fragrance of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Holy Trinity, the Mother of God, the Holy Angels and all the Saints will make their home in his heart. In short, his heart will become a spiritual Paradise. And if you have the Lord of Sabaoth, you will be happy wherever you are. Unfortunately, people today are educated in the spirit of self-love, pride, vainglory, dissoluteness, love of money, etc., and their heart becomes a hell, full of sins and unclean spirits. Thus, the proud man tortures himself and tortures others, too. Humble-mindedness is a Christian virtue which you should try to have every moment of your life.

Question: What is humility of heart?

Answer: Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us: Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls (Matt. 11:29). With the help of Divine Grace and our good Christian deeds, our stony hearts will change into spiritual hearts. That’s why God tells us, My son, give Me thine heart (Prov. 23:26). The eye of your heart should always be on God. Thus do we hope to be saved, and the Grace of the Holy Spirit will always help us.

3. The Means of Facilitating the Prayer

Question: The Athonite Fathers advise us to say the Jesus Prayer with repentance and not mechanically. What can you tell us about this?

Answer: The whole work of the Prayer of Jesus is for repentance! Because we pray: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” This means repentance. Because if you pray without repentance it means that you have high-mindedness and are on the wrong path. Why do we pray to our Lord Jesus Christ to have mercy on us? Because we’re sinners. So, we say this prayer only for repentance. If you have high-mindedness, no matter how little, God will not have mercy on you. The devil knows this, because he fell due to his high-mindedness. Because of this, the devil sows the passions in the heart of any man in the world, through his high-mindedness. The enemy whispers to us, “Glory to God! You’re a monk. You’re not like other people. You’re a sinner but you’re not like other people.” This is spiritual destruction for a Christian. The more important the gifts are that you have received from God—whether you are a bishop, priest, deacon, monk, doctor, professor, engineer, etc.—the more indebted to God you should consider yourself to be, and more sinful than other people. If the Holy Apostle Paul—who was raised up to the third heaven and who saw Mysteries which eye hath not seen … neither have entered into the heart of man (I Cor. 2:9), humbles himself, saying, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief (I Tim. 1:15)—then what can we take pride in, who are full of passions and sins? Because the more you purify yourself of your sins and draw near to God, in the Divine Light you see your passions and sins in their true magnitude, and the darkness in your heart.

So, if you consider yourself to be more sinful than all people and even than the demons who enslave you in every bad thing, then the Holy Spirit will descend upon you. High-mindedness is very harmful for our spiritual life! That’s why St. John of Damascus says in the Canons to the Mother of God, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, by the prayers of Thine All-pure Mother, have mercy on me, a sinner, who am more sinful than any man in the world!” He did not say this out of formality, but thanks to his humble-mindedness he considered himself more sinful than any man in the world. Only in this way will the All-good God help us to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, because a humble sinner is better before God than a proud righteous man. He who has every good deed but is high-minded will be left by God to fall into sins and to be humbled in this way. That is why our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. The Pharisee had good deeds, but his mind became exalted, and he said, “I am not like everyone else and like that greedy Publican.” God did not bless him for this high-mindedness. And the Publican didn’t even dare look up to heaven and said, “Good Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!” And God, because of his humbleness, blessed him. Thus, he left the Temple justified and blessed by the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

Question: How can we defeat a powerful angry thought?

Answer: This spirit of anger comes because you do not have humble-mindedness. But you should struggle, because in a moment of rage your mind and reason darken and you can do many evils. You should humble yourself, ask for forgiveness and pray to God to help you, because our Lord Jesus Christ told us, Without Me ye can do nothing (John 15:5). That’s why we become angry: because we’re proud, we pretend that we’re someone important and that we’re right.

Question: It often happens that we have many obediences within the community life of the monastery, and I’m saddened because I don’t have time enough for prayer and reading.

Answer: Father, if you endure obedience without murmuring, God will send down upon you the Grace of the Holy Spirit, and the humble prayers which you also make are received by Divine Goodness. When you do your obedience without murmuring, you have peace of soul. You should do your obedience as a son of God by Grace and not as a slave or an animal. If you’re taken and given another obedience, you should not murmur, but say, “This was God’s will! I’ll do it with all my love.” And God will bless you with His Grace.

Question: However, I have this spiritual dissatisfaction because I can’t pray, I can’t fulfill my rule of prayers and prostrations!

Answer: It doesn’t matter! Be at peace! God will give you what you could not fulfill because of the blessed reasons. Be patient! All will pass—may the Good Lord grant you patience! Remember that patience is baked at midnight (prayer) and is eaten in the daytime. If you did not pray at midnight, you will not be patient in the daytime. The Holy Apostles were unable to keep vigil together with the Savior Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, and that’s why they did not have the Divine power to resist the temptations of the next day. A little patience! In your patience possess ye your souls (Luke 21:19).

Question: I am attacked by evil thoughts, blasphemous thoughts. Are they from the demons? They do not leave me alone in the Church either! What shall I do?

Answer: Pay no attention to them! Leave them alone. Let them howl in your mind. Pray to God with humility: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Thus, they’ll pass by themselves, naturally. Because if you stay and converse with them and the enemy sees this, they’ll give you trouble. You should say in your mind: “I’m a monk and I believe and do everything the Holy Orthodox Church teaches me!”

Question: I torture myself the most when I judge my neighbor!

Answer: Father, the greatest danger for each of us is when we judge others. Do you know why? When you judge your neighbor, and especially priests, your father confessor, or your elder, the first thing that will happen is that the bodily passions will fight you more than at other times. This is allowed by God because you did not pay attention to your own sins and judged others instead. But we should arm ourselves with the sharpest sword against the demons and their wiles, which is humble-mindedness. Thus, if you see a man committing a sin, say in your mind, “I’m much worse than he is.” But not only with your lips—you should be convinced that you really are worse than he is. Even if I didn’t commit that sin in deed, I did it by desire, by thought, or by agreeing to it. And I’m a monk (for a monk, a sin committed in thought is as severe as a sin committed in deed by a layman). Furthermore, we don’t have the right to judge anyone. Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us, Judge not, that ye be not judged (Matt. 7:1). Because if we judge, we’re proud and God will allow us to fall into great sins in order to humble us so we can see our sins. And if we humble ourselves, God will remove that passion and the warfare which comes upon us from the demons. Because humble-mindedness drives the devil away like fire. But we should be in a state of watchfulness and discernment in everything.

Question: How can we be united with God?

Answer: You should purify your soul and body from all the passions and, little by little, you’ll come to perfect love for God. But you should partake of the Grace of God in the Holy Mysteries, pray much, fast, keep vigil, and perform other good Christian works in order to establish humble-mindedness in your mind and heart. Being humble-minded, praying, and having discernment, a man draws near to God with spiritual joy. Thus, he will have many temptations, especially so as to be humbled. No matter what spiritual step you are on, if you are not humble-minded the enemies will knock you down in a moment. On the foundation of humble-mindedness you can build all good works: obedience, spiritual tears, Divine love….

Question: How can a Christian find quietness for praying, a Christian who lives in the tumult and noise of a city?

Answer: We should try to obtain as much as possible! We should not be negligent. Because negligence is the greatest danger for the soul of each man. It means you have no mercy for your own soul, and thus you’re in great spiritual danger. You didn’t do your [prayer] rule? Negligence tells you, “It doesn’t matter.” You didn’t fast? Negligence tells you, “It doesn’t matter.” Did you commit fornication? Negligence tells you, “It doesn’t matter.” We should strive as much as we can and God will help us to be saved. The greater the temptations are, the greater the Grace of God will be and the greater the crown. But God will not allow us to be tempted above our strength. If we have prayer and purity of soul and body, the Grace of the Holy Spirit will descend upon us and all great difficulties will easily be solved. These hard times for the salvation of our soul were prophesied by the Holy Fathers. A disciple asked his Elder, “Father, look, we’re powerless and the enemy fights us. If that’s the way it is as now, what will it be like in the last times?” The Elder responded, “Son, in the last times, the monks will be like laymen and the laymen will be like demons!” But I know people who live in the center of Bucharest and lead a pure and spiritual life.

Question: Christianity is the religion of love. But there are Christians who say that they can’t love their neighbor even with a natural, human love. What shall we say about Divine, holy love?

Answer: This happens because their heart is full of desires and sins. But man is not born with passions. He’s born pure. With the passage of years, through everything he does, he acquires his passions. Sin enters your nature after you start embracing and loving it. Man is not created by God to be bad. By no means! Man is good, but his education and society corrupt him. But let us strive for salvation of soul and God will help us.

Question: This year, when I drew near the Holy Mountain by ship, a bad spirit was fighting me to go back. Was it a demonic or worldly spirit?

Answer: Father, the demonic and worldly spirit are one and the same! The worldly spirit is a demonic work. The Holy Apostle John said almost two thousand years ago, The whole world lieth in wickedness (I John 5:19). This means that the world is led by and works with the spirit of pride, love of money, vainglory, profligacy, theft, lying, etc.

5. On Gathering the Mind

Question: When we say the Jesus Prayer aloud, it can be spoken or chanted. Which way is the best?

Answer: Spoken.

Question: I have read in the writings of the Holy Fathers that if we speak the Prayer, demonic thoughts can enter into the pauses between the words.

Answer: Demonic thoughts can come in if you chant it, too. The most important thing is to be humble-minded, and for your mind to be attentive to the words of the Prayer and not wander about everywhere. Your mind, spirit, and heart should be directed towards our Lord Jesus Christ. We should make an effort, and the Grace of the Holy Spirit will help us pray.

Question: Owing to worldly worries and demonic and human temptations, our mind is scattered all the time. How can we gather our mind under such conditions?

Answer: The Holy Apostle Paul teaches us: Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks (I Thess. 5:17–18). We should pray with repentance and with humble-mindedness and have hope in the goodness of God, Who has helped us so many times in our prayers.

Question: When you pray reading the Psalter, Akathists, the Prayer Rule, or the Seven Praises [9], the heart warms up. Can this warmth of heart be used in order to concentrate ourselves when we say the Jesus Prayer?

Answer: Father, these are subtle things. But if you have spiritual joy and the peace of the Holy Spirit is within you, there’s no need to search whether it’s in the heart, the mind or the soul. Because if it’s in the mind it’s also in the heart, and if it’s in the heart it’s also in the mind and in the soul. If it’s in the mind, it’s also in the heart and if it’s in the heart it’s also in the mind, because that spiritual joy is a Divine work. It’s impossible for there to be gladness in one place and discontent in another. Because the gift of the Holy Spirit sanctifies a man entirely when it descends upon him. The man is all spiritual joy.

Question: While practicing the Jesus Prayer, there may occur a pain in the heart. Is it a good thing to concentrate on that place?

Answer: At such times you can’t say the prayer with the lips, but only with the mind. The heart is not in a state of illness, as some practitioners of the Jesus Prayer wrongly think. In those moments, the heart experiences spiritual joy and spiritual tears course down from the eyes.

Question: If you say the Jesus Prayer for a long time, does the mind get tired?

Answer: Of course. It’s very important that the mind be pure and peaceful, because if it’s occupied with thoughts it gets tired more rapidly. And if the devil also meddles with his temptations, the mind becomes darkened and scattered and will have to labor spiritually for a longer time. That’s why the Holy Fathers left all worldly worries and went to the desert or to the heart of the mountains, so as not to see or hear anything, and they would eat a little piece of dried bread every few days. Living this way they would purify their minds perfectly and draw them closer to the good Heavenly Father. But we have testimony from the Holy Fathers that there were people even in royal palaces who had the Jesus Prayer. At that time there were more pure people who were more pleasing to God than there are nowadays.

Question: When the mind becomes tired from saying the Jesus Prayer, is it good to read the Psalter, Akathists, the writings of the Holy Fathers, or to sing troparia or the Doxology?

Answer: Until the Jesus Prayer is established perfectly within us, we will not be able to say it ceaselessly. It is good to alternate and say other prayers too, or to read or sing religious songs. However, blessed physical labor will also help us very much. Even if we have the Jesus Prayer, we should not give up the rule of prayers and prostrations which we have received from our father confessor.

Question: On Holy Mount Athos, I saw that there are cells in which the Athonite Fathers do their [prayer] rule and the Seven Praises saying the Jesus Prayer.

Answer: It’s true. But our father confessors advise us that the rule should not be omitted for any reason. In church, in some sketes and cells they replace the Seven Praises with the Jesus Prayer. One of the Fathers comes to the kliros [10] and utters aloud one hundred times: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Then another father takes his place and so on, for a time equivalent to the Seven Praises. The other fathers who are in the church listen attentively and repentantly. The old fathers said that while they were practicing the Seven Praises in this way in the church of the St. Anne Skete, an Elder saw the Savior Jesus Christ coming down in the midst of them.

6. Learning the Jesus Prayer

Question: How is it better to learn the Jesus Prayer: synchronized with your breathing or synchronized with your heartbeat?

Answer: I believe it’s easier to learn the Jesus Prayer with the breathing. St. John Climacus says that your prayer should be united with your breathing. Just as you breathe in order to be able to live, so should you pray in order to feed your soul with the Grace of the Holy Spirit. When you breathe in, say, “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God,” and when you breathe out, say, “have mercy on me, a sinner!” Since you’re a sinner, you should cast the passions and sins out of your heart and introduce our Lord Jesus Christ into your heart. Because you direct all the passions and sins into your heart with your thinking. Through the Jesus Prayer we aim at drawing Jesus Christ into our heart when we say, “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God”; and when we say, “have mercy on me, a sinner!” we drive out the passions and sins which are there in our heart. Calling upon the name of Jesus Christ ceaselessly, a Christian becomes deified. But care, perseverance, and quietness of mind are needed. That’s why the Fathers left for the desert, for remote places, in order to have quietness and to be able to concentrate their mind. With much speaking, even if it’s beneficial, you can fail. St. Arsenius the Great said, “I have regretted speaking, but I have never regretted being silent.” But we who talk all the time and waste our time uselessly—how can we say, “Lord Jesus Christ?” Regarding the learning of the Jesus Prayer, whether based on breathing or on the heartbeat, every Christian should conclude, from his own experience, which method is more useful.

Question: Since nowadays we no longer have hesychia, stillness of mind, is it appropriate to take part in the liturgical life as often as possible (the Holy Liturgy, Confession, Holy Communion, Holy Unction) in order to purify ourselves from sins and to pray more easily?

Answer: The Fathers who teach such things take into account the weakness and the worries of modern-day people. That’s why, instead of staying at home and praying on a little stool, it’s better to take part in the Holy Liturgy, to confess and receive the Eucharist with the help of the Grace of the Holy Spirit present in the Holy Mysteries, to listen carefully to the prayers, chants and teachings of the Church so your heart can be purified by the Grace of the Holy Spirit. But preparation is necessary for Holy Communion, as the Holy Apostle Paul teaches us.

Question: The Jesus Prayer may be uttered with pain of heart. How do you recommend our Christians to practice it?

Answer: One must say the Jesus Prayer with a heart broken through suffering, so that spiritual tears will course down from your eyes. This is a Divine gift which very few acquire. So, we should say the prayer calmly, with discernment—because if you do not have discernment, other temptations may occur, such as damage to the heart, mental illnesses, etc. Our tempter has a treasury of evils and has grown old in evil. He even dared to tempt our Lord Jesus Christ.

Question: Is the sensing of God in our heart a prayer too?

Answer: Yes, it is. The feeling of God in your heart is also a prayer. But this is a great Divine gift. When you have the presence of God in your heart you don’t use words anymore, so as to keep the spiritual joy in your heart as long as possible. If you have fear of God in your heart, everything you do will draw you near to God, everything will purify you of sin and you will feel the presence of God in your heart as spiritual joy, peace, Divine love.… Because we learn from the Holy Gospels that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 110:9). There’s a great deal of human wisdom now. So many things have been discovered and invented. But very few of the wise men of this world give glory to God, Who gave them the mind, wisdom and power to discover and create these things. Most of them say, “I did it!” But there is no passion worse than egotism before God. No action, no deed that is done egotistically, is accepted by God. Thus, the proud man, no matter what he does, descends moment by moment, hour by hour, into the depths of hell.

7. Mistakes in Practicing the Jesus Prayer

Question: What are the more serious mistakes made by those who practice the Jesus Prayer?

Answer: Pride of the mind is the greatest danger and few are delivered from it. You can defeat it only if you are humble-minded. But humble-mindedness should be firmly rooted in your soul, heart and thinking. Humble-mindedness is a virtue which is acquired through great efforts and spiritual struggles. We must fight, and the All-good God, seeing our pains, will not leave us to be defeated by the demons. We must be careful, especially with the sin of judging our neighbor. For instance, you see a man talking to a woman and start judging them, thinking that they’ll commit fornication. At that moment, the spirit of fornication will enter your soul, mind, and heart.

Question: While practicing the Jesus Prayer, there may occur in our heart a warmth which is from the spirit of fornication. How can we be delivered from this temptation?

Answer: Father, this is the biggest problem! If you do not have humility, then, no matter what you do, delusion and demonic temptation will appear. That’s why the Holy Prophet David tells us, I was brought low and He saved me (Ps. 114:6)! We can be delivered from all the temptations you enumerated in your book The Prayer of Jesus: The Way of Uniting the Mind with the Heart, and from others which you did not enumerate, if we have humble-mindedness. The devil can’t enter the heart of a man who has humble-mindedness. The most powerful weapon against the demons that each of us has is humble-mindedness. It’s not prostrations or fasting or all-night vigils, because if you don’t have humble-mindedness, at the first demonic attack your soul will be defiled by the wicked spirits of fornication, vainglory, anger, etc. So, if you don’t have humble-mindedness, salvation is difficult and full of temptations. These temptations are allowed by God so that you can see your infirmities and humble yourself. See what the Holy Apostle Paul tells us: We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against … spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph. 6:12). But we cannot conquer unless we have humble-mindedness! If you say with humble-mindedness: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” the hostile devil will not be able to draw near us with his temptations. The tempter, the devil, draws near when we become high-minded or accept thoughts and words of pride and vainglory from people or demons; for instance: “See how much you’ve advanced in praying!” or, “You can see that you’re not like others!” In fact, this is the goal toward which the devil strives in order to make us high-minded, and in this way to deprive us of prayer.

Question: But can the devil attack us with thoughts of anger, envy, hatred, fornication and other similar thoughts?

Answer: Yes. That’s why you should uproot your main passions from your heart—through Confession, penance, prayer, good deeds, and almsgiving.

Question: But the Holy Fathers say that the practice of the Jesus Prayer helps the most with the quelling of a man’s passions!

Answer: Of course! These must be done together: the Jesus Prayer along with the good Christian works which I mentioned before. The Jesus Prayer changes the old man into the new, spiritual, Divine man. When you establish Jesus Christ in your mind, soul and heart, you have become a throne of Divinity, a temple of the Holy Spirit. And Divine Grace brings purity and holiness to your mind, soul, and heart. But for this we must make an effort. Before receiving Communion of the Holy Mysteries, we should purify our soul and body, saying the Jesus Prayer. And when we want to sleep, we should say the Jesus Prayer. The Grace of the Holy Spirit and our guardian angel will be with us if we fall asleep having the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in our mind.

Question: What can you tell us about warmth of the kidneys, which is natural, and which can occur during the practice of the Jesus Prayer?

Answer: The Holy Neptic [11] Saints teach us that this warmth which comes from the kidneys is a natural warmth, which is born of the work of the will. This warmth brings harshness, agitation and coldness into the soul. One who prays should avoid this warmth while practicing this prayer. He should pay no attention to it, and should not concentrate on it. It’s good to do physical work, which will lead to the disappearance of this warmth. It’s not an easy thing to reach perfection by means of the Jesus Prayer, but we should labor and fight spiritually, because God does not ask anything of us that is beyond our strength.

Question: If you pray while having bad thoughts (of pride, anger, fornication, etc.), can these irritate the other fathers and brothers in the monastery too?

Answer: If you have bad spirits in your heart while practicing the Prayer, they will fight against the other fathers and brothers in the monastery, too.

Question: How is it better to say the Prayer of Jesus, in the full or the short form? “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” or, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!” or, “Jesus, have mercy on me!” or, “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!”

Answer: It depends on one’s mind and on his spiritual state. It’s best to say it completely, because in this case we recognize the Divinity of our Savior Jesus Christ, we ask for His mercy and we acknowledge our sinfulness. But when there’s much disturbance within us and outside us and we can’t concentrate anymore, then we cry with repentance, “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!” It’s important to cry out with repentance!

Question: What is good for a beginner to do in order to learn and practice the Jesus Prayer?

Answer: First of all, with the help of Divine Grace, a beginner should stop committing great sins. For this a beginner should look for a good spiritual father for Confession and in order to make a good Christian beginning. Then, he should regularly attend the Divine Liturgy, as often as possible; he should fulfill his daily rule of prayers and prostrations given by his spiritual father, and practice the Jesus Prayer twice a day for at least fifteen minutes, in a quiet place. He should learn and practice the foundation of all good works, the virtue of humble-mindedness, because if you do not humble yourself before God, men, and demons [12] you will lose everything. He should cut off his own will, live in obedience, and accept joyfully whatever happens to him. Failure to cut off one’s own will, contradicting others, and justifying oneself represent the beginning of high-mindedness.… That’s why you should humble yourself and be obedient. When you are sincere, not doubting, but have humble-mindedness, the Grace of the Holy Spirit will descend upon you. This is a good foundation and you will be able to grow spiritually, fighting against temptations, having the Jesus Prayer as an unconquerable weapon. If you have humble-mindedness, you can defeat the passions. This does not mean that you have become perfect; but when you have the Grace of humble-mindedness, with the help of God’s power you can struggle against the passions, sinful men, and the demons.

Question: How can we keep our mind purified from evil thoughts?

Answer: If you humble yourself, the Grace of the Holy Spirit will keep your mind pure. But if you do not obey, if you do not cut off your will, if you do not humble yourself, you distance yourself from God’s Grace and cannot resist unclean, demonic thoughts.

Question: Are there moments in which God’s Grace leaves us?

Answer: The moments in which God’s Grace leaves us are those in which we commit great sins. But he who has humble-mindedness is never abandoned by God.

Christian Humility Conquers Pride

Christian Humility Conquers Pride
by Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
Boise, Idaho, USA
November 2003

As Christians, each and every one of us should strive to acquire humility, for there is no better thing in this life then to live in humility, loving one another and loving God with all our hearts. So often, though, pride gets in our way – and once the heart becomes corrupted by pride we begin to lose our love for not only our God, but also for our neighbor. So it is absolutely vital for our spiritual health that we defeat pride by humbling ourselves in love before our gracious God, and letting that love spread out to touch everyone around us, friend and enemy alike.

Each of us knows that if we continue on our Christian path towards our salvation, we must avoid pride at all cost, since pride consumes all that is good in this life. Our example is the humility shown us by Christ our Lord, which brings great satisfaction to the mind, heart, and soul, like a wonderful spiritual fragrance that comes from the love of our God. What is more important than anything in this life is the love of our God for us! If we desire this love of our Lord God, then we must consider humility as a great Christian virtue in our life.

St Paul writes these moving words in his Epistle to the Philippians (Ch. 2, v.5-8): “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”

This is a powerful picture of true humility for us, a picture that should touch us and cause us day and night to strive to have such humility for ourselves. So pride must be defeated, that spirit of pride in the human heart that can only bring us to despair and loneliness. The despair and loneliness is the absence in our lives of our Lord Jesus Christ and the recognition of His love for us all. Our Lord God loves a humble heart!

St Peter, in his First Epistle, puts this very clearly (Ch. 5 v5b-7): “Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”

What a wonderful truth!

So we have these challenges before us: To defeat the spirit of pride. To be clothed with humility. To be reconciled with each other and with God, so that He may bless us.

Deliverance can be at our doorstep when we as Orthodox Christians seek the help of the Holy Spirit to overcome pride. With pride overcome, our souls by the Holy Spirit then see the Lord, and He is indeed meek, and lowly - this is indeed very special humility. The Holy Spirit can help and will help us and so with urgency we should seek the blessings of the Holy Spirit to allow our lives to be transformed.

One simple act of reconciliation with those around us is to humbly seek their prayers for ourselves. Just to make this little request is a blow in the face for our pride! Through loving prayers for one another we become true brethren of our Church, brothers and sisters loving one another, and always seeking with humility the love of our God, who blesses us with His love.

The earth is the Lord’s, and every person should humble himself and seek to live with profound peace and love while we are on this earth. It is only with this spirit of humility that we can receive the riches of the Kingdom of God, passing them on to our neighbors and receiving the riches He has given them in return. Then we can finally say that there is great joy on earth! Heaven and earth are truly united when we have humility and love for our God and for one another.

Finally, when the soul gives itself to the will of God and conquers pride, then the mind contains nothing but God, and the soul stands before Him with humility, having a pure mind and heart. Peace to your soul!

Humbly In Christ Our Lord,

+Very Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
Who prays for you!

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Holy Elders on Television

On Television: Comments by Various Saints and Holy Elders

From the Spiritual Counsels of the Blessed Elder Paisios the Athonite

On how TV is damaging to our souls—especially to youthful ones

Television has done us great damage. It's especially destructive for children. A seven-year-old child came to the hermitage once. I saw the demon of television speaking through the child's mouth, exactly as demons speak through the mouth of the possessed. It was like a baby born with teeth. It is not easy to find normal kids; they are turning into little monsters. And you see they don't get to think for themselves, they only repeat what they have heard and seen on television. That's why they have come up with television to begin with: to make people numb and dumb, so that they will take what they hear and see on television for a fact and act accordingly.

That we should be trying to lead our children to seek to turn on the "spiritual television"

[Mothers must be helped to] understand that television dulls their children's minds. They lose the ability to think on their own, to think critically—not to mention the damage it causes to their eyesight. And we are talking about man-made television. But there is another kind—a spiritual television. When people uproot their old self, and the eyes of the soul are cleansed, they can see into the future without the aid of any machines. Have they told their children about this other kind of television? If they won't, these boxes will make our children dumb."

From the Spiritual Counsels of the Blessed Elder Lawrence of Chernigov (Russia)

The God-pleasing Holy Elder used to say, "Blessed, and thrice-blessed is the man who does not desire, and who will not see the abominable face of the Antichrist. He who sees him and hears his blasphemous words, his promises of all earthly treasures, he will be deceived and will go to meet him and bow down to him. He will perish together with him and will burn in the eternal fire."

They asked the Elder, "How will all this come to pass?" The holy Elder said with tears, "In the holy place, the abomination of desolation will stand. And it will show the foul seducers of the world. And they will be deceiving the people who have fallen away from God, and will perform false miracles. And after them, the Antichrist will appear. And the whole world will see him at the same time."

Then the fathers asked the Elder, "Where in the holy place? In the church?" The Venerable one answered, "Not in the church, but in every house. In the corner, where the holy icons now stand and hang, there will stand captivating devices which will delude the people. Many will say, 'We need to watch and listen to the news.' And behold, in the news the Antichrist will appear. He will mark his people with the seal, and he will hate Christians. The last persecutions of the Christian soul who will refuse to receive the mark of Satan will begin. A Christian will not be able to neither buy nor sell anything. But despair not, the Lord will not abandon His children. There is no need to fear.

From the Spiritual Counsels of the Blessed Elder Anthony of Russia

Satan has gotten man to arrange his entire lifestyle so that there is completely no quiet time, time for contemplating the past day, week, or month. Everything is occupied with entertainment. And in this system of entertainment, television is given the privileged place of honor. The lion's share of free time is 'eaten up' by it, that idol of contemporary civilization. I would call it a cruel despot and tyrant, to whom the greater part of mankind is subject, in a servitude never before witnessed in the world. For slaves feel their lower position because they have been brought to it by force. But here the servitude is voluntary, even pleasant at first glance. Just the bitter fruits of worldliness, cruelty, and depravity demonstrate that, as in any kind of slavery, only the master benefits. And the horns of the master even poke out of the screen. Therefore, in this system of preparing people for the coming of antichrist, the television has been given the not just the role of consuming free time, its destructive role is far greater. A person watches the news, even the Orthodox news, and it seems to him to be something necessary and useful, at any rate, not harmful. But the actual news occupies only a small portion of the time. The rest is an analysis of what happened, that is, a view of what happened which must be formed by those watching. And the view of the customers is that which is given by those who control the given information...From this, from the hypnotic effect of the television program, a person loses his ability of thinking for himself, of thoughtfully perceiving the events that are happening, and finally, of forming his own world-view.

We began speaking about the decline in relationships between people today. The root of this decline lies namely in the absence of individual thought and consideration of what has happened, corresponding to a personal world-view. And this, by no means, is a justification for the search of today's "individual," no.

I said this, because there was always someone in the kitchen with my mother. In the evening, after supper, a large samovar was prepared, and everyone, whoever might be spending the night, settled down to drink tea. A conversation started. It was so interesting! These stories of the simple people were so edifying. My father laughed at our love of spending the evening in the kitchen, considering that there was nothing for an educated person to gain from semi-illiterate people. But, having spent a couple of evenings with us, he changed his opinion. The people who gathered were all Orthodox and they knew the world, but not by watching television. They spoke about events from life, of which they were witnesses, or what they had heard from witnesses. In everything they looked for something edifying, the results of what had occurred, and how Divine Providence had taken part in it, as well as the free will of the person. In these discussions there appeared a great variety of thoughts and distinct world-views. People then were able to not just hear, but to listen, and in general, they much preferred to listen than to speak. Although, I repeat, each of those present had something to say.

I digress, but it's interesting that these simple people, at a time of seeming prosperity and contentment in the empire, already saw the approaching catastrophe. And this was not so much as a result of their associating with the Elders of Optina or Kiev, or from the sermons of the righteous John of Kronstadt, as it was a result of their ability to observe what was happening and draw conclusions, based not on an abundance of material available, but on the preservation of spirituality by society. It was namely the lack of faith, not simply faith in the existence of God, but faith as the fulfillment of Christ's commandments, which led these people to think that the coming disaster was inevitable. I will return again to this 'kitchen' gathering, but now, concerning our life.

Yes, contemporary gatherings on that level are simply not possible. The thing is, that even when people have gathered together at one table, their relation to the Faith is varied. As the wise David said, 'The foolish has said in his heart, there is no God!' Just the rejection of the existence of God is both insanity and a sure path to insanity. And this is not the madness of those pagans that were enlightened by the Apostles and Holy Fathers of the first centuries of Christianity. Concerning the pagans of today, the Apostle said: 'For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.' What kind of normal gathering is possible under these conditions?! People love to talk, but not listen, to teach, but not to learn. What unites all of these people around one table? Intoxicants—spirits, and plenty of food, that is, what is on the table, not who is at the table. Nothing soul-profiting can come out of such an environment, for as the saints taught, you do not speak about God with a full stomach—and even more so, with a drunken head!

There is one more terrible evil from the television, but unfortunately, it's far from the last. This evil is the undermining of the authority of the Church. It is planned and diabolically cunning. It is in everything—in mocking the clergy, the Orthodox rituals, in placing the occult, paganism, in opposition to Christianity, in everything. Everything is saturated with hatred for the Truth. Not much time will pass before they will openly mock Christianity and holy things on television. Broadcasts concerning the Theotokos will be especially permeated with hatred; from everything will flow the poison of diabolic evil. Only it will be under the veil of humor, comedy. 'Laughing hell' will take the work of ridiculing everything Divine, and spiritual, all the way to the end. And the end will be in the one who appears and tries to take the place of God. And he will enter immediately into every home. How can a person enter every home at the same time?! We say that that is one of the qualities of God—being everywhere present—even the angels move about and exist in time. But the Church teaches that antichrist will enter immediately into every home; this seems to be a contradiction.

But no, the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is the vessel of truth, of Divine truth. In imitation of being everywhere present, antichrist will enter into every home simultaneously with the help of the television. Everyone will receive him into his house, and he'll receive him voluntarily! And he'll receive him, he'll receive him, for he will want to be prepared for this, prepared properly, because he didn't heed the instructions of the Good Pastor to flee to the desert, it doesn't appeal to him—it's boring and dry in the desert!"

"Fr. Anthony, and where is it now, this desert?!"—I couldn't restrain myself.

"Most esteemed father, you are not slow-witted, but the plastering of your church is taking more of your time than it should, otherwise you wouldn't have asked that question. But forgive an old man! You are impressed by the externals, but what is inside doesn't sadden you. One temple not made by hands in the human soul is worth ten stone temples! Unfortunately, Catholicism was imported during the time of the accursed Peter, and especially during the Unia, so that now we judge everything by the externals, such as crosses and miters. Take and read the writings of the Hieromartyr Archbishop Hilarion Troitsky, he was a wise hierarch. I have saved excerpts from his speeches.

The main thing in the desert is the monotony, there's nothing to catch your eye, everything's the same. The devil creates a mirage, as if there is vegetation, water, gold finally; but you must turn to Christ, as the holy desert-dwellers wrote, pray, cross yourself—and everything disappears. And so today you must strive for such a state of soul, so that your eye is not caught by anything. So that everything around you is the desert…but if you see something that is tempting—pray, cross yourself, confess. Condemn yourself that you saw a temptation in the desert, which means you wanted to see it, more precisely, you were disposed to seeing it.

What, you're surprised? Here, I'll give this example. A person goes to the forest to collect mushrooms. There are many poisonous mushrooms there but he doesn't even notice them, no. There is only one good type worth looking for—he sees it from afar, he notices it right away. He's a good mushroom collector and his basket will be full. But the bad mushroom collector—he sees only poisonous mushrooms, even when he actually notices a huge good one! And in his basket there's nothing to look at. The good mushroom collector saw the poisonous ones—he saw, but he paid them no attention, they did not catch his eye. And then he will talk about and remember the good ones, his soul—will glow. [Good thoughts, images, ideas are the good mushrooms; the evil one's suggestions, the evil all around, are not collected, are not seen, are not caught by the eye.]

So it is with sin. A person sees only sin and sinners around him, his attention is directed at this. One way or another he will allow what he sees to pass into his mind, and he becomes a participant in the sin. But pay no attention to all this lawlessness, burn your own faults into ashes, do battle with them and be displeased with them—and there is no defilement. There is your desert. But, the first time you notice—you're displeased, the second time—you already show an interest in what those people are doing. But the third time—you already want to try it! That's the way it is, and that's why it says to flee to the desert. But on the other hand, you should understand this literally also, since antichrist will not be allowed to gain full and absolute control over us, and I saw in the West those hidden from his horned servants—the Lord will not permit it. Of course, whoever wants salvation, and for its sake abandons the comfort and convenience of the city and goes off to a deserted place, will be very safe.But people will comfort themselves with the possibility of salvation everywhere until the Second Coming. Soon they will assign everyone a number, in order to give antichrist an account, and then they will introduce special card-passports—and here it is serious—it will be possible to determine the position of every person. Can one avoid all of this? Yes, only you can't trade, or buy, or obtain housing, etc. And people will go to get these numbers and passports, even those who consider themselves to be Orthodox, and they will stand in line for them. And what, do Holy Scripture and Tradition speak of anything else?! There is your desert. The people trusted in God, and they received food from angels, or they were satisfied with so little that today many people consider it to be a fairy tale—contrary to reason!

Saint John of Kronstadt

Most men not only bear Satan's burden willingly in their hearts, but they become so accustomed to it that they often do not feel it, and even imperceptibly increase it. Sometimes, however, the evil enemy increases his burden tenfold, and then they become terribly despondent and fainthearted, they murmur and blaspheme God's name. The usual means that men of our time take to drive away their anguish are—entertainments, cards, dancing, and theatres. But such means afterwards increase still more the anguish and weariness of their hearts. If, happily, they turn to God, then the burden is removed from their heart, and they clearly see that previously the heaviest burden was lying on theit heart, though frequently they did not feel it. O, how many men there are who have "forsaken [God] the Fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no [living] water"! Men have very many such broken cisterns—nearly everybody has his own. The broken cisterns are our hearts, our passions.

From My Life in Christ, p. 58. How much more applicable is this today in our Age of Diversion, in which video games, Internet, movies and television are everywhere?! We are Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Businessamusing ourselves to death." The rest of the quotes were collected from various sources or sent to me by email. Posted on 11/12/2007.

Formation of the Hellenic Christian Mind

Demetrios Constantelos

The Formation of the Hellenic Christian Mind

From his book: Christian Hellenism. Essays and Studies in Continuity and Change Publishing by Aristide D. Caratzas, New Rochelle, New York & Athens ISBN: 0-89241-588-6

TELL this tο the king; the decorated court has fallen tο the ground, Phoebus nο longer has a cell, nor laurel of prophecy, nοt babbling fountain; even the chattering water has dried up.
Anonymous, Fourth Century A.D.

The medicæval Greek or "Byzantine" mind was the product of the fusion of several intellectual, cultural, and religious traditions of antiquity, such as the Greek, Roman, Hebrew, Iranian, and Christian. But it was the humanistic mind of ancient Hellas and the Christian faith that contributed the most to the genesis, formation, and evolution of the Byzantine mind. The thought of the ancient Greeks was very much alive during the Byzantine era because the Greek classics -literatιιre, philosophy, history, art, education and even mythology- constituted the curriculum of education throughout the Byzantine millennium.

Because the Byzantine era was profoundly religious, the future of the ancient Greek cultural heritage -especially literature and philosophy- in the Byzantine Empire was determined primarily by the attitude of the Church toward secular learning.


Tο appreciate the place of the classics in the Byzantine state, one needs to understand the nature of the conflict between Greek thought and Christian faith as it evolved in the early Christian centuries. The encounter between Christianity and classical padeia (education) produced the forces which determined the future of the Byzantine Greek mind.

As early as the Apostolic age, attempts were made to present the new faith in a way that nοn Jews would understand. St. John wrote the fourth Gospel for people of Greek background. John's opening words "Ιn the beginning was the Logos," as well as his meditative, mystical, symbolic and philosophical terminology are borrowings from Heraclitus, the Stoics, and Hellenic thought in general. His well chosen words logos, light, darkness, flesh, birth, son, life, eternal life, bread of life, water of life, sign, spirit, resurrection, and many more were intended to stress not only the pre-existence of Logos the Christ, but also God's involvement in history outside of ancient Israel. The implication was that the God of Israel was the God of the Greeks, Romans, Scythians, and others, that there was nο essential conflict between Greek thought and Christian faith.

This line of thought was further developed by Christian thinkers trained in the classics, such as some of the Apostolic Fathers. For example, Justin the philosopher and martyr ( 165) taught that God can be discovered through the writings of Greek philosophers. The truth concerning the nature and attributes of God was established by the Greeks through the application of reason (logos), especially through Heraclitus and Socrates. Justin emphasized that all have a share in Christ whether Christians, Jews, Greeks or Romans. "All those who lived according to reason are Christians, even though they were classed as atheists." He emphasized that Plato's teachings or the doctrines of the Stoics, the poets and the prose authors of Greek antiquity, were not contrary to Christ's. "For each, through his share in the divine spermatic Logos, spoke well . ... Whatever has been spoken aright by any man belongs to us Christians."

Part of Western Christianity adopted a different line of thought; for example, Tertullian, the second century Christian apologist, scornfully satirized those who "advocated a Stoic or a Platonic or a dialectic (Aristotelian) Christianity." Latin Christianity wrestled for several centuries with Tertullian's question "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?"
(2) Greek Christianity had achieved from an early age a balance between the wisdom of the two cities: the Thyrathen, or Hellenic and the sacred, or Hebraic. Christianity received Hellenic thought as a gift of Divine Providence.

The Western attitude toward the classical humanities was determined by the literacy or lack of it that prevailed in the West following the barbarian invasions. While Christianity had made little progress among the Roman aristocracy in the Western Roman Empire, and the educated classes there displayed a strong resistance to the new faith, those ordinary people who had converted to Christianity regarded contact with classical learning dangerous; its study was, if not sinful, playing with fire. This fear, which corresponded to the mentality of the more conservative and traditional Roman (in contrast to the more restless and inquisitive Greek) affected even the cultivated Christians who had accommodated the new faith to classical culture.

Twο important anecdotes illustrate this point. Jerome, one of the best minds of Western Christendom, loved to read Cicero. But every time he read his beloved author, Jerome felt guilty. Ιn vain had he tried to convince himself that what he was doing was not sinful. Ιn a dream he attempted to convince Christ that he was a faithful Christian but the Heavenly Judge answered his plea "Ι am a Christian" (Christianus sum) by the rebuke "A Ciceronian you are indeed, but not a Christian" (Ciceronianus es, nοn Christianus).
(3)( )( )

At the end of the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great (AD 590-604) caustically reproved the bishop of Vienna for teaching literature. Gregory said: "One mouth cannot contain the praises of Christ and the praise of Jupiter."
(4) He was bitterly opposed to classical learning even though he proved to be a progressive and reforming pope.

That some Roman popes distrusted clerics who had been educated in the classics is illustrated by another story from the seventh century. Theodore of Tarsus had received an excellent training in the classics in both Tarsus and Athens. When he was elected Archbishop of Canterbury, Pope Vitalian, who consecrated him in 668, expressed fear and doubt of Theodore's orthodoxy. The Roman pontiff charged Abbot Hadrian to accompany Theodore to Britain and keep "a diligent eye οn Theodore lest he teach anything contrary to the true faith after the manner of the Greeks."
(5). Gilbert Highet writes that "there was always strong opposition within the Church (Western) to any study of classical civilization, because it was the work of a world which was corrupt, pagan, dead, and damned."(6) Nevertheless, at least the Roman classics were preserved in the West, through study and transcription in certain monastic communities of the Western Church.

But let us move back to the East. Ιn addition to Justin the philosopher, Aristides and Athenagoras of Athens and later Clement and Origen of Alexandria exerted great efforts to present Christian teachings in a 1anguage and style that educated gentiles would understand. During the early Christian centuries and, in particular, in the fourth and fifth centuries, Christian intellectuals, such as Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzos, and Gregory of Nyssa; perceived that many aspects of classical thought, philosophy, ethics and the thought of Plato in particular, came very close to Christian teachings. Thus Greek philosophy, anthropology, political thought, ethics, and psychology were placed at the service of Christian theology. Classical literature nο longer was considered unsuitable for the Christian faithful. "Like a bee, Ι shall gather all that conforms to the truth, even extracting help from the writings of our enemies (pagan authors),"
(7) writes the eighth century theologian John of Damascus.

When educated pagans began to be converted to Christianity and when educated Christians began to delve into the study of the Greek classics, a conflation was achieved between Greek classics and Christian doctrine. The study of the classics was guaranteed as a result of the adoption of views such as those of the influential Basil the Great, expounded in the treatise "Exhortation to Young Men as to Hοw They Shall Best Profit by the Writings of Pagan Authors."

The Greek Church arrived at the conclusion that the study of Hellenic wisdom was both useful and desirable, provided that the Christian rejected the evil and retained all that was good and true. Christianity was baptized in the Greek stream of language and thought, in the Greek cultural milieu and Hellenistic historical setting. As a whole, however, the Fathers of the Greek Church did not seek to borrow essence and content from ancient Greek thought, for these they possessed in their sacred Scriptures. They intended to borrow methodologies, technical means, terminology, and logical or grammatical structures in order to build up the Christian edifice of theology, of doctrine and thought. Nevertheless, in this effort Christian revelation did not escape infiltration by Greek thought, and Greek cultural and intellectual influences became interwoven with Christian faith. A harmonious convergence was achieved between Greek thought and Christian faith, and a balance has prevailed in the Eastern Church to the present day.

Tο be sure, attempts were made to upset the balance. For example, the Emperor Julian (360-363) made serious efforts to restore not only classica1 learning but also the Olympian deities. John Italos in the eleventh century and George Plethon Gemistos in the fifteenth maintained that the classical religious and intellectual tradition offered everything, if not more, that man needs to know and to possess than Christianity. Other ecclesiastics, such as Epiphanios of Cyprus and Anastasios of Sinai, believed that Christianity was self sufficient and that it could not be reconciled with the classical tradition. But neither the enemies of Christianity nor the adversaries of the classics prevailed. Apollinarios the Younger established the equilibrium when he stated that "the good wherever it is found is a property of the truth."
(9) The Church recognized in this principle the legacy of the Greek classics and united them with the Christian tradition. Thus we observe in the Byzantine era the continuity of the Greek past, the Hellenistic heritage united with the new element of the Christian faith.

Whether in the fifth, the ninth or the twelfth centuries, Christian professors and scholars wrote οn both theological and classical themes. The study of the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the classical Greek poets, historians, rhetoricians, philosophers and literary men formed the core of the curriculum. The same teachers who supervised classical studies also wrote treatises and commentaries οn Christian theology and Biblical exegesis. Byzantine paideia was Hellenic Christian paideia. Because of the survival of the classical tradition, we find in the mediæval Greek era many men who dared to question not only theological opinions but even dogma, and a few restless minds ventured even to emulate the speculative mind of the ancients. Of course, they were characterized as "heretics." Heresy derives from the Greek "hairesis," which means choice, and there was room for intellectual and religious choices.

Intellectual, cultural and social historians increasingly realize that Byzantine society was not as rigidly conservative or static in its ideology or as inflexibly bound by its religious dogma as was maintained in the past. Admittedly, the Byzantines viewed theology as the inner and superior learning, but the outer, or "secular" learning was not neglected for it was part and parcel of their paideia. For example, Eustathios, the twelfth century Metropolitan of Thessalonike, was not timid in writing commentaries οn Homer and was not afraid to quote passages from Sappho. John Mauropous, the bishop of Euchaita, directed special prayers to Christ asking him to accept Plato and Plutarch in his kingdom because they differed very little, if at all, from the Old Testament prophets. Ιn the fourteenth century, George of Pelagonia utilized more material from the Greek wisdom of antiquity than from the Christian Scriptures in his composition of the vitα of Emperor St. John Vatatzes. It was because of its attachment to Greek learning and its broadmindedness that the Greek Church and Byzantium as a whole were accused by the Latin West of being "worldly," "heretical" or "schismatic." The Latin Christian West for several centuries, in particular from the late sixth century to the age of Thomas Aquinas, had proscribed profane Hellenism. Even though certain important minds, such as Macrobius and Jerome, had tried to bridge the gap between pagan and Christian Hellenism, Western monasticism contributed to a drastic decline of Greek thought in Western culture for four centuries (600-1000). Champions of Greek thought such as Boethius ran the risk of being charged with heresy and magic. At times even civilized practices that had been introduced from the Greek East were condemned as sinful. For instance, the Byzantine Princess Theophano, wife of Otto II (973-983) and regent for Otto III (983-1002) and one of the ablest empresses ever to reign in Germany, was seen after her death by a visionary Western nun to be burning in Hell because of her habit of taking baths; the early death of her cousin Maria Argyre, the wife of the Doge of Venice, was similarly considered by Peter Damian to deserve divine punishment because Maria had introduced the use of forks to Venetian dining tables.
(10) Ιn the Greek East, heresies and religious sects were dissident forms which emerged from the mainstream of cοntemporary intellectual and spiritual life, or offspring born from the fusions and matings of Judeo-Hellenic Christianity and Greek thought. The very fact that many of them kept cropping up in the course of more than ten centuries is indicative of a fertile intellectual ground and the tolerant religious atmosphere there. It was the broad and variant religious and spiritual climate that made the old issues-theological, philosophical, Judaic, Greek, or Oriental-far from obsolete or academic in any given centιιry.

The Greek Christian mentality concerning the place of the classics in the Church may be illustrated by another text preserved in a questionnaire attributed to Anastasios of Sinai ( A.D.). The question was: "Shall Christians pray for the salvation of those pagans (Hellenes) who had died before the coming of Christ, or should they anathematize them?"
(11) Anastasios answered that the faithful should indeed pray for them and not condemn any one of them because both John the Baptist and Christ Himself had descended to Hades and had preached the gospel of salvation to all who had died before the Christian era (1 Pet. 3:19).

It was not unusual to find Christian intellectuals attacked because of their great attachment to classical learning. For example, the fifth-century prefect of Constantinople, Kyros Panopolites, who wrote beautiful lyrics, was banned from Constantinople as a "Hellene." But even though he was accused of paganism, he was ordained Bishop of Kotyaion, a remote diocese in Phrygia. During the reign of Theophilos (829-842), Leo the Mathematician, a professor at the University of Constantinople, was accused of paganism because of his attachment to ancient lore. The tenth-century scholar and diplomat, Leo Choirosphaktes, was assailed for his devotion to ancient drama and music and for his leaning toward classical culture. However, very seldom do we find an intellectual being burnt at the stake because of his love for the classics. Many of those accusations were politically motivated and often proved harmless. The study of the mind of ancient Greece was too long-standing a tradition to be overthrown by personal jealousies. Even monks, the most conservative element of Byzantine society, were advised to study ancient or secular writings. Nicholas Kabasilas, a fourteenth-century mystic, maintained that the saints themselves are incomplete personalities if they have not received sufficient instruction in profane or worldly literature.

Furthermore, intellectual challenges to the established tradition and faith were not uncommon in the Greek East and even dogma was never petrified and stifling. There was growth and development. Divine revelation was viewed not as a sudden heavenly lightning or as an unpredictable thunderbolt, but as a cosmic sun, slowly rising with the origin of man, culminating in the person of Christ, and continuing under the guidance of the Paraclete (Holy Spirit); that is, they believed in a revelation whose rays penetrated many minds and thoughts through various ways and channels.

The balance between Greek thought and Christian faith became more and more precarious after the eleventh century. But it was after the thirteenth century that intellectuals attempted to upset the balance by stressing the significance of Greek knowledge over Christian dogma.

There were others who rejected both philosophy and theology. The revival of the works of the skeptics Pyrhho of Elis and Sextus Empiricus encouraged the belief that both theology and philosophy, or Christian faith and Greek thought are futile abstract exercises.

The revival of the Greek classics, of scholarly and artistic interests after the thirteenth century reached its apogee in the fifteenth century. George Plethon Gemistos was the most challenging representative of Greek learning. He openly attempted to upset the balance between Greek thought and Christian dogma. Plethon was not only an advocate of "the Greek nation and the rise of Greek nationalism," but in his later years called for a revival of ancient Greek religion to replace traditional Christianity. Plethon might have been the first to seriously challenge the claims of Christianity after Celsus of the second and Emperor Julian of the fourth centuries. Plethon's controversy with contemporary theologians, Gennadios Scholarios in particular, constitutes the last important phase of the conflict between Greek thought and Christian orthodoxy, at least for the ancient and mediæval periods.


But what in particular of the classical tradition survived in the Greek, or Byzantine Middle Ages which contributed to the formation of the Byzantine mind? Practically everything. The Byzantines took pride in being the inheritors and preservers of the Hellenic classical tradition. Byzantine society was an educated society, and its education rested οn two legs, the Greek and the Christian. The first included, of course, the Greek language, the official language of the empire. Ιn fact, many Byzantine intellectuals felt so strongly about the Greek language that they mimicked the language of the ancients. Byzantine historians imitated Thucydides, Xenophon, and Herodotus. Hagiologists imitated Plutarch, and the writers of religious drama emulated the great tragedians. Ιn other words, continuity with pagan Hellenism remained alive, and public education was in the hands of the laity. Revivals of humanistic and classical activities arose from both ecclesiastical and publicly sponsored education.

By the eleventh century, Constantinople had three schools of higher learning where medicine, botany, zoology, mathematis, philosophy, law, rhetoric and other disciplines were studied. But the classical tradition was taught even in primary and secondary education. Grammar, syntax, reading, writing, arithmetic, geometry, music, anatomy and astrology were the usual subjects in the curriculum. After the sixth century most children of freemen were being educated free of charge in state-owned or church and monastic schools. The state schools were open to all children regardless of nationality or class.

As in Greek antiquity, when the pupil was made to read Homer and poems by good poets and learn them by heart, so also in Byzantine times the student was obligated to read Homer (and later the epic of Digenis Akritas) as well as the Bible. Aesop's fables were memorized at the age of 14 or later, and students often had to memorize all of Homer. They began by memorizing five lines of the Odyssey, and after they knew the whole of the Odyssey, they moved οn to the Iliad.

The art of public speaking required the study of the great rhetoricians, particularly Aeschines, Isocrates and Demosthenes. Education was offered to both sexes. There were outstanding women either in letters and history or in politics. Athenais-Eudokia, the wife of Theodosios II (408-450), was a renowned fifth-century classicist. Ιn the eighth century, Irene, who preferred the masculine title basileus, became the first female emperor of the Christian era, while Anna Komnene in the twelfth became a leading historian of the Middle Ages. Women became physicians and even prominent literary figures. But the education of the Byzantine woman was usually moderate or even poor, nοt extending beyond the fourteenth year of age.

Tutorial teaching was very common, but we find public schools even in remote villages in Cappadocia. For example, we learn that St. Theodore of Sykeon, even though born out of wedlock, faced nο disability in receiving his early education in his native village in central Asia Minor, the eparchy of Galatia.

Higher education was available in several well known academies. Athens, Alexandria, Antioch, Beirut, Gaza, Constantinople, Thessalonike, Mistra, Nicæa, Nikomedeia and Trebizond were the most important centers of higher learning. Some of them, of course, fell to the Arab conquerors after the first quarter of the seventh century.

Emperors who did not patronize higher learning were the exception. Some became great patrons of learning, such as Constantine the Great (307-337), Theophilos (829-842), Constantine ΙΧ (1042-1055), the Komnenoi emperors, John ΙΙΙ Doukas Vatatzes (1221-1254), Michael VIII Palaiologos (1259-1282), and Andronicos II (1282-1328).

The fifth century marked a definite turning point in Byzantine higher education. Theodosios ΙΙ founded in 425 a major university with 31 chairs for law, philosophy, medicine, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music, rhetoric and other subjects. Fifteen chairs were assigned to Latin and 16 to Greek. The university was reorganized by Michael ΙII (842- 867) and flourished down to the fourteenth century.

The ninth century was more important for the future of the classics than any previous century. There was a reorganization of the university and a definite and serious revival of classical learning. And since the boundaries between the lay and ecclesiastical spheres of interest were nonexistent, Christian and classical learning were conjoined.

From the middle of the ninth century we have several figures who cοntributed to the survival and indeed the promulgation of the Greek classics, such as Patriarch Photios, John Geometres, Leo the Mathematician, Arethas of Caesarea, Leo Choirosphaktes, Michael Psellos, John Italos, John Mavropous, Eustathios of Thessalonike, Anna Komnene, Theodore Lasaris, Theodore Metochites, Plethon Gemistos and George Scholarios.

We must note here that the term "revival" does not imply that classical learning was dead in the previous three centuries. The Greek East did not experience a revival like the Western Renaissance because the classica1 tradition was an integral part of Byzantine education, and Greek learning was not confined to isolated monastic communities. It was taught in Constantinople, in Thessalonike, in Nicæa, in Mistra and elsewhere. Even the iconoclastic controversy reveals the existence of Greek learning, for the victory of the iconophiles has been viewed as the victory of the Greek mind over the Semitic.

Photios in the ninth century was deeply versed in the classical authors, including the mythographers. His Myriobiblos is a collection of notes οn various classical books read by himself his pupils, and his friends. Photios gave preference tο Aristotle in philosophy and to the Athenian orators and historians in literature. Ιn contrast to Photios and his school, there were others who admired and read Plato, the Neoplatonists, such as Plotinus, and the tragedians and lyric poets.

John Geometres admirably exemplifies the scholar who blended harmoniously the sacred and the profane. "He speaks of pagan Greek writers as often as of Christian saints."
(14) His poems are full of references to classical authors: Xenophon, Sophocles, Homer, AEchylus, Euripides and others. Plato is "the teacher of immortality" and Aristotle "the definer of the bounds of mind and nature."(15)

Arethas of Caesarea, who lived in the tenth century, had all kinds of manuscripts copied, including Euclid, Plato, Lucian and Aristides, and was a student of many classical writers.

John Mauropous, one of many distinguished eleventh-century intellectuals and an eminent professor of rhetoric in Constantinople, is a brilliant example of a man who had achieved a balance between his sacred and his classical education. His writings mention the Bible and Church Fathers, but he derives also a great deal from Epicurus, Pindar, Plato, Plutarch and others. Ιn one of his poems he stressed the affinity between Plato and Christ's ethics, claiming that Plato and Plutarch were Christians in their essentials. He prayed: "Ιf my Christ, you should wish to exempt any of the pagans from your threats, choose for me Plato and Plutarch. For both these in thought and deed showed how very near they were to your laws. They may not have known that you are the God of all, but this is only a further claim οn your mercy, the gift through which you desire to save all men."

Michael Psellos, who lived in the eleventh century, may not have been an exception in his knowledge of certain classical authors. While still a boy, he knew the whole Iliad by heart. Psellos exhorted his students to imitate the industry and example of Plato and Pythagoras, and he himself tried to emulate the style of Demosthenes and Thucydides. When he contrasted the present with the past, Psellos found in ancient Greece all the virtues which he wished to see in his students. He loved Plato in particular. Ιn a controversy with the Patriarch, his former friend, John Xiphilinos, Michael cried out: "Your holiness and most wise: Plato is mine, indeed he is mine!"

Anna Komnene confirms that classical learning was very much alive in the twelfth century. She was herself excellently trained in it. "Ι was not ignorant of letters, for Ι carried my study of Greek to the highest pitch . . .Ι studied the works of Aristotle and the dialogues of Plato carefully, and enriched my mind by the 'quaternion' of learning!"
(18) Anna cites profusely Plato, Demosthenes, Aristotle and above all, Homer. Eustathios of Thessalonike, who lived in the twelfth century, was the ideal Græco- Christian scholar. Unquestionably a devout Christian, he was also a great classical specialist, an authority οn Homer who wrote monumental commentaries οn Homer's epics, as we have already observed. The emphasis οn the classical heritage became more pronounced in the later centuries of the Byzantine Empire. Classical learning had been the foundation of Byzantine education. The Church Fathers owed much to the nοn-Christian tradition and "it cannot be sufficiently emphasized that the accepted canon of Byzantine scholarship was the judicious use of all sources of knowledge."(19)

The survival of the Greek classical tradition is reflected not only in philosophical thought or in the teaching of the Greek language but also in the secular and even the religious art of the period. It was fashionable to decorate amphoras, glass buckets or other items with mythological scenes and images of classical influence. Marble slabs as well as floor mosaics depict similar secular themes.

Even ancient Greek religious concepts and practices survived into the Christian Middle Ages. Ιn Greek antiquity, the deity moved freely in history and religion was a very real force. Ιn the Greek Middle Ages, religion was of vital importance to the state as well as in the daily life of the individual. Ιn Greek antiquity temples, sacred groves and statues were dispersed everywhere, reminding the people of the nearness of the supernatural. Ιn Byzantium, icons of Christ and symbols of the saints decorated churches and houses, public buildings and city gates, perennial reminders of the presence everywhere of God and the sacred.

Ancient Greek religious mysticism, too, influenced Christian mysticism. The teaching concerning theosis is a recurrent theme in the writings of Greek Fathers of the Bγzantine era. According to Byzantine theology, the ultimate destiny of the faithful is to achieve theosis (deification, divinity), that is eternal life in God (but not absorbed and annihilated by God, as in pantheism). Theosis became synonymous with salvation, and salvation meant the state in which the human lives eternally in the presence of God; damnation meant the absence of God from the life of the human. For Byzantine theology, the theosis of being is achieved through religious experience.

The idea of theosis, however, was not foreign to nοn-Christian Greek thought; the state of theosis was to be achieved not through theology, but through philosophy, through paideia, philosophical askesis and intellectual growth. For Greek thought, philosophia is the path, the anabasis (ascent) to theosis. Plato writes that the righteous man will not be neglected by God, and that man "by the practice of virtue will be likened unto god so far as that is possible for man." Plato's teaching is echoed in the writings of the Neoplatonists. Ammonios of Alexandria writes that "philosophy is like- ness in God so far as that is possible for man." Ιn the fourth century, the philosopher Themistios declares that "philosophy is nothing else than assimilation to God to the extent that it is possible for man."

Last but not least, the survival and the contribution of the Greek classics to the development of the Byzantine mind can be inferred from the fact that there were many libraries stocked with volumes of the classical heritage. For example, the Imperial Library of Constantinople in 475 possessed 120,000 volumes, including the famous parchment, 120 feet long, upοn which were inscribed Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. The library was destroyed by fire but it was rebuilt in the sixth century.

Ιtι the eighth century, the library of the Oikoumenikon Didaskaleion, which was destroyed in the fire of 726, included "many and good books" of both Christian theology and Greek classics.
(21) But the Byzantine Empire had other state, church monastic, and private libraries which were stocked with numerous manuscripts of the works of classical authors. Many of them were destroyed and many more found their way to Western European capitals following the catastrophic Fourth Crusade, and after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks. Libraries preserved the Greek literary tradition which contributed to the growth of the Byzantine mind. Ιn the words of Socrates, the fourth century ecclesiastical historian:

«Greek literature certainly was never recognized either by Christ or his Apostles as divinely inspired, nor οn the other hand was it wholly rejected as pernicious. And this they did, Ι conceive, not inconsiderately. For there were many philosophers among the Greeks who were not far from the knowledge of God... for these reasons they have become useful to all lovers of real piety.»

Ιn Byzantine society, the better-off families took education for granted. Education was available to clergymen and laymen alike. There were church schools and academies as well as secular schools and universities. There were public as well as private tutors, secular as well as clerical patrons of learning. Even in their worst days, the Byzantines never lost their sense of priorities. Libraries had to be built along with hospitals, hospices, orphanages, old-age homes and other public institutions. Ιn the fields of historiography, ecclesiastical poetry, liturgical writings, doctrinal and spiritual expositions, art and mosaics, the Byzantines proved outstanding. The Byzantine mind was dynamic, changing and developing throughout the ten centuries of its existence. Continuity of established tradition as well as new life can be found in the art, music, spirituality, literature and learning of every period including some years after the fall of Constantinople.

Furthermore, in political and military organization and administration the Byzantine Empire displayed a tremendous capacity for adaptation and growth. Ιn the later period even Emperors such as John VIII Palaiologos (1425-1448) advocated discussion and freedom of expression. Greek methods, such as committees, voting and dialogue, belie those who contend that imperial pressure was a permanent constraint οn this freedom. Economic problems, social interests and administrative changes clearly indicate that the internal history of the mediæval Greek world was far from being uniform and static. Tο be sure, there was continuity with the Greek thought, literature, history and culture of antiquity, but mediæval Greek civilization was a new synthesis, something living, organic, changing from century to century, even from generation to generation and from place to place. For example, there is a strong continuity between the language, literature and culture of Pontos and the Peloponnesos, but there are many differences as well. Like ancient Greek, mediæva1 Greek civilization was characterized by a unity of diversity.

The term paideia means both civilization and education. When Werner Jaeger used the term paideia to describe the ideals of Greek cιιlture, he meant to indicate that the Greeks believed that men progressed in civilization not by gaining power or wealth, but by educating themselves.
(24) It is a well known fact that the Byzantines much preferred negotiation to confrontation, and most of their wars were defensive. They measured their achievements and their international status not by their power or their wealth but by their spiritual values and their education. The great books of antiquity as well as their οwn histories, poetry, epics, theological works, philosophical treatises and speeches served to educate their readers. The Byzantines did not create literature or art for their οwn sake. Both were designed to serve their people. Thus the best of classical literature was transformed by the admixture of Christian thought in order to serve intellectual and spiritual needs. The Byzantine mind was primarily a spiritual mind.

The definitive book οn the Byzantine mind has not been written. Nevertheless, it is my perception that the Byzantines were concerned with civilization, and civilization is not chiefly concerned with wealth, power or possessions but rather with the education of the human mind and the refinement of the human psyche. According to this definition, the richest state in the world, a society of unlimited wealth and comfort, would still not be a "civilization." Such a state would be what Plato described as "a city of swine, eating, drinking, mating and sleeping until they died."

Byzantine civilization was primarily a spiritual civilization active in the cultivation and the ultimate salvation of the human person. It was gιιided by the principle that it was the duty of each human being not to extend his or her power or multiply his/her wealth beyond the necessary needs but rather to enrich the mind and save his οt her soul. The first was provided by the Greek classics and the second was promised by the Christian faith. Therefore, the Greek classical humanities and Christian doctrine were the two most important elements of the Byzantine mind.


1. Justin, Apologia Ι.46, II.13, ed. Bibliotheke Hellenon Pateron, vοl. 3 (Athens, 1955), 186, 207.

2. Tertullian, De Praescriptione haereticorum VIII. 9-11, ed. R. F. Refaule and P. De Labriolle, Sources Chrétiennes (Paris, 1957), 98.

3. Jerome, Ep., ΧΧII,30.

4. Gregory the Great, Ep., ΧΙ. 34.

5. Venerable Bede, Ecclesiestical History, 4.1, ed. Β. Colgrave and R. Mynors (Oxford, 1969).

6. Gilbert Highet, The Classical Tradition (Oxford University Press, 1957), 8.

7. John of Damascus, De Fide Orthodoxa, PG, 94, 524-5.

8. Basil the Great "Exhortation tο Young Men ..." PG 31, 563-590.

9. Socrates Scholastikos, Historia Ecclesiastica, 3.16, PG 67.

10. Steven Runciman, "Byzantium and the Renaissance" Tbe University of Arizona Bulletin, (1970), 506.

11. Anastasios of Sinai, "Questions," Νο. 3, PG 89, 764.

12. Donald Μ. Nicol, "The Byzantine Church and Hellenic Learning in the Fourteenth Century," SChH, 5 (1969), 23-57.

13. D.J. Constantelos, "The Last Phase of the Conflict between Greek Thought and Christian Orthodoxy in the Greek Middle Ages" Alumni Lectures 2. (Hellenic College, Brookline, Mass. 1972), 9-18.

14. J. Μ. Hussey, Church and Learning in tbe Byzantine Empire, 867-1185 (New York, 1963 reprint of 1937 edition), 33-36.

15. John Geometres, "Carmina νaria," PG 106, 917, esp. poems 13 and 14.

16. P. De Lagarde, Editor, Iohannis Euchaitorum metropolitae (Gottingen, 1882), p. 24; also in PG, 120, Poem 43.

17. Michael Psellos, Epistulae, ed. Sathas, ΜΒ, 5,444 and Hussey, οp.cit., 86.

18. Anna Comnena, Alexiad, Prologue, tr. E.R.A. Sewter, The Alexiad of Anna Comnena (Harmondsworth, 1969), 17

19. Hussey, οp.cit., 106-07.

20. Plato, Republic, Χ.12.613; Porphyry, Isagogen sive V νοces, ed. by A. Busse, Commen. in Artist. Græca IV, pt.III, (Berlin, 1891); Themistius, Orationes quae supersunt 21.32d, ed. N. Schenkl, G.Downey, and A.F.Norman (Leipzig, 1965-74), 43. 6-7.

21. Konstantinos Manaphes, Hai en Konstantinoupolei Bibliothekai (Athens, 1972), 25-31.

22. Socrates Scholasticos, Historia Ecclesiastica, 3.16, PG 67.

23. Cf. J.Μ. Hussey, "Gibbon Re-written: Recent Trends in Byzantine Studies" in Re-Discovering Eastern Christendom, eds. A.N. Armstrong and E.J.Β. Fry (London, 1963), 95-105.

24. Werner, Jaeger, Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, tr. Gilbert Highet, νοl. 1 (Oxford, 1946), xiii-xxiv.

25. Platο, Republic 372, 4; Gilbert Highet, The Classical Tradition, οp.cit., 546-49.